I’m not going to go on about how Black Christmas is the true original slasher film, because who really cares? Yeah, it’s about a group of sorority girls getting hunted by a serial killer as Christmas break settles in. It also opens with the iconic first-person camera view as we follow the killer breaking into the sorority house. We’ve even got a final girl who barely survives the film (although whether she survives the closing credits is another question), and an ineffectual local police force who bumble their way through 98 minutes of bloody murder. Oh yeah, it was also inspired by the real life 1943 murders that took place during the holiday season in the Westmount neighborhood in Montreal and the “babysitter and the man upstairs” urban legend.

What’s really interesting about this film is how on the nose it is about how men generally treat women on an everyday basis. When lead, Jess (Olivia Hussey, Juliet herself) tells her boyfriend that she’s pregnant and wants an abortion, he demands a say, threatens her, then declares that they’re getting married – all without considering her feelings, or future plans, at all. Is it any wonder that when he finally shows up at the end and tries to do the right thing, she brains him with a crowbar thinking he’s the killer? Any man in the movie could be the killer.

The police also refuse to listen to the girls when trying to report the disappearance of the killer’s first victim and when they try to get help dealing with an increasingly disturbed obscene caller. Another boyfriend (Art Hindle of eventual The Brood and Octagon fame) and the missing girl’s father both have to speak up before John Saxon takes the case seriously. There’s also one murder that is particularly stylish involving a glass unicorn, owing a great visual debt to Italian giallo films like those of Dario Argento.

As the film opens, we discover a town girl had been raped earlier but no one had been arrested. Then, after police initially dismiss the disappearance of a 13-year-old girl, she is found mutilated in the park. All this is before our killer climbs the lattice to the sorority house attic – where he stashes two victims still unaccounted for as the credits roll. While we can assume that the freakishly demented Billy, as the killer has come to be known, is responsible for all the prior mayhem, it’s not actually established. My own head canon suggests that all the incidents are unrelated, and that’s just the world women live in, where they are constantly under threat of victimization and brutalization by faceless men who are rarely, if ever, punished.

The most enigmatic part of the film, however, is Billy himself. He is never seen beyond his eye peeking through the crack in a door, but his personality is most definitely felt, thanks to those recurring obscene calls. What begin as heavy breathing and sexual threats – if those are Billy at all – turn into multi-voiced rants about the baby, blaming Billy for doing something horrible to Agnes (who may be the baby in question?). There’s a backstory to be pieced together – and many have – but by leaving it in the shadows, Black Christmas is elevated to something a little more interesting than a typical slasher and becomes a disturbing exploration of victimization and patriarchy.

Black Christmas was the third horror film in a row from director Bob Clark (with the zombie classics Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things and Deathdream preceding it), and each film has become a must-see classic in the decades since. Clark would move away from horror after this, eventually directing very different types of classics, Porky’s, Porky’s II: The Next Day, Rhinestone, Baby Geniuses, and Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2. But most notably he wrote and directed another Christmas perennial, A Christmas Story in 1983.

And in one last piece of trivia, Black Christmas was set to make its television debut on Saturday night, January 28, 1978, but was postponed due to a real-life series of murders at the Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University. That killer was eventually caught and revealed to be Ted Bundy.

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